Racing is one of those rare sports that is contested all over the globe. While sports such as American football, Aussie Rules Football, or even cricket are played in select countries around the world, forms of horse racing are contested worldwide.
British racing is widely considered the best in the world, although this is an opinion largely held by the British themselves! However, we do excel in Jump racing, staging the world famous races that are the building blocks of our winter and sprintg calendar.
In countries like the UK, France, Ireland, and Australia, Jump racing has become a business spawning the professional development of jockeys, trainers and better and faster horses, many of which we're able to see at nearby Cheltenham. Thanks to the popularity of racing in these countries, large festivals and events run throughout the calendar year, captuing the public imagination and encouraging horse racing fans to bet during the race season as well as at big race festivals. Fans can use betting Royal Ascot to get the latest betting news and odds for the biggest race fixture of the British summer calendar, Royal Ascot for example.
The growth of racing worldwide is a largely Victorian phenomenon, brought about as the British Empire colonized large parts of the world and painted them pink. And although we celebrate huge crowds at Cheltenham every year, which encourage thousands to turn up even at venues like Andoversford each Spring, the largest racing fixtures by size of crowd across ther world are almost all abroad.
Hong Kong was ceded to the British in 1842, but racing was not developed until 1884 with the creation of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, a non-profit that gives its betting revenues to charity and community projects.
The owner is a feted personality in Hong Kong, and owners must be elected to the HK Jockey Club, which has 28,000 members. It remains a highly exclusive club, with elite entry criteria. As an example, the Club had no Chinese member for at least the first 16 years of its life!
The two racecourses, at Sha Tin and Happy Valley, regularly house crowds well in excess of 40,000. Attendance did drop dramatically after the handover back to China in 1997, but has since recovered. They may not stage Jump racing, but you can't help but be lifted by the extraordinary atmosphere of the racecourse in its built-up environment.
The Club returned HK$25.2b to the community in the form of tax and community assistance in the most recent year. That's a cool £2.4bn. You won't find many Chinese complaining about prize money in Hong Kong.
Two decades ago, the United States would have been higher on this list. However, in the past 20 years, the country has seen racecourses close due to growing sentiment that horse racing is a cruel sport, fuelled by the drug policy that allows horses to run on masking drugs like Lasix. Anti-sports bettors in the US have also waged war against it. In 1890, the USa boasted 314 racecourses; it's now down to 78 that run Thoroughbred and quarterhorse races.
Thirty-six years ago, the USA's invention of the Breeders Cup was designed to wrest the initiative for world-wide racing back to North America. Top competitors like Teleprompter and Royal Academy in 1990 under Lester Piggot, fresh out of jail, captured the imagination of European racing fans. More recently, however, European challengers have been sparser, not least because of the invention of British Champions Day and the growth of Arc Weekend.
Still, there are parts of the US that deliver top-notch horse racing: New York, Kentucky, Florida, and California. The Kentucky Derby, rescheduled to this weekend, regularly sees attendances over 100,000.
That's not to forget the niche market of US Jump racing, where many a fast ground specialist from the UK makes a mark. Engaging events in East Coast venues like Belmont, Far Hills and Charlotteville capture the essence of the Victorian development of racing as ahighly social activity.
This with long memories will remember West Country trainer David Barons achieving great success with NZ-bred horses in the UK. And it's certainly true that the New Zealand climate lends itself perfectly to Thoroughbred breeding. 52 courses for 4.5m inhabitants make this a country where racing is in the vanguard of sport.
There are only 100 NH races in New Zealand, but the sport is enjoying a resurgence of interest presently. Prize money is in excess of $NZ 2m, just shy of £1m. Big races like the Great Northern Steeplechase and Wellington Hurdle are attracting good fields and big crowds too. And admission is almost universally free!
New Zealand horses have achieved great success over here too. Perhaps the best known was Crisp, whose Grand National attempt died on the run-in when Red Rum passed him to win his first National in 1973, and more recengtly, Playschool, winner of the 1987 Hennessey.
Australian Jump racing is limited to Victoria and South Australia, generally as part of mixed cards. Coleraine racing Club in Victoria stages the country's oldest race, dating back again to the Victoria era, in 1858, 24 years after the Grand Annual was created at Andoversford.
Of course, Australia's best known race is the Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday in November, where over 100,000 gather to watch a truly international field win the toughest handicap in Flat racing worldwide. Charlie Appleby broke the British duck in the race in 2018 with Cross Counter, but Dermot Weld has won twice with Vintage Crop in 1993 and Media Puzzle in 2002. It's a hard nut for European horses to crack.
The first racecourse was established in Madras, in 1777, three years after the death of Clive of India, largely responsible for bringing India under British colonial rule. Its fortunes have waxed and waned since, but whilst there is no Jump racing at all, the sheer vivacity of India finds its way on to the racecourse through a replication of the British Classic races, and a good smattering of top riders who farm the big races as a winter sinecure from the All-Weather at Southwell, Lingfield, Wolverhampton or Newcastle.
There is currently a heavy tax on betting in India which is pushing spectators away from racing to other forms of gambling. Nevertheless, for those in the Arab world who want a more eclectic racing experience - and one with alcohol - India is a short flight away.
Whichever way you watch it, racing's infinite capacity to entertain stretches across the world, in vastly differieng styles, climates and quality, all celebrating the potentcy of the Thoroughbred to run fast. Whatever may be happening in local territories where racing has issues, the sport has legions of followers willing to support its growth and well-being.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)